Born in 1984 in Jiangxi, China
Lives and works in Shanghai, China

NI Youyu

Viewing Ni Youyu’s work often leaves one with a spatial and temporal illusion: outsiders may have difficulty, at first glance, in determining the age of the artist and indeed the age of the works. The artist seems intent on avoiding temporal marks in his oeuvre, instead imbuing his artworks with an abstract trace. Ni Youyu asserts that he is not keen on the “conceptual”, even hesitating in calling what he makes as belonging to “contemporary art”. For many years now, the artist has gone against the grain, even working in a “low-technique” mode. Many of his artworks often undergo a long process (some as long as several years) and go through a degree of uncertainty from gestation to completion. It is impossible, therefore, for him to work programmatically “on order” in the manner of artisans in the classical sense, and for that matter it is also difficult for him to produce works according to an exhibition theme in the manner of a modern artist.

view all


- Graduated from Fine Art College of Shanghai University

solo shows

- Dome and Scale, He Art Museum

- The Last Sunset, Galerie Perrotin, Shanghai, China
- ∞, Yuz Museum, Shanghai, China

- Relic, Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin, Germany
- Ni Youyu:Dust Paintings, Orange County Museum of Art, California, USA
- So Near Yet So Far, Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong, China

- The Endless Second, Gallery Nathalie Obadia, Paris, France
- Concrete Waterfall, Kunstverein Konstanz, Konstanz, Germany

- Big Dipper, Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin, Germany

- Constant dripping wears away a stone, MOCA Taipei, Taipei, Chinese Taiwan
- Invisible Force, Arario Gallery, Shanghai, China

- Inches of Time, Art Museum of Nanjing University of the Arts, Nanjing, China

- Form and Matter, Hive Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China
- Zilch – Ni Youyu Independent Project, Department for Culture and Education of the German Consulate – General in Shanghai, 9m2 Museum Project Space, Shanghai, China

- A Brief History, Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai, China

group shows

- Art of Craft, Next Cultural Producer, Power Station of Art (PSA), Shanghai, China

- The Dream of the Museum, M+ , Hongkong

- In Front of the Sea, Passerelle Centre d'art contemporain, Brest, France
- Facing the Collector: The Sigg Collection of Contemporary Art form China, Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, Turin, Italy
- Out of the Shadows: Contemporary Chinese Photography, Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, USA

- The Museum Collection, Brooklyn Museum, New York, USA
- Uncompleted, Sifang Art Museum, Nanjing, China
- Chinese Whispers: Recent Art from the Sigg Collection, Austrian Museum of Applied Arts / Contemporary Art, Vienna, Austria
- Ghisla Art Collection Season 2019, Locarno, Switzerland
- Roots of Clouds Adrift: Temporality - OCAT Nanjing Qixia Public Art Project 2019, OCAT Nanjing, Nanjing, China
- THE CITY PLAN OF NANKING, Sifang Art Museum, Nanjing, China
- Do you Copy, MoCA Shanghai, Shanghai, China 

- After Sunset, Galerie Liusa Wang, Paris, France
- A Chinese Journey - The Sigg Collection, Noordbrabandts Museum, Hertogenbosh Holland
- Into the Great Wide Open, 166 Artspace, Shanghai, China
- Post-Brushwork Era: Chinese Landscapes, Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou, China

- Shanghai Galaxy II, Yuz Museum, Shanghai, China
- The Weight of Lightness, M+ Museum, Hong Kong
- 4th Documentary Exhibition of Fine Arts: Stress Field, Hubei Museum of Art, Wuhan, China
- Ritual Spirit, White Rabbit Gallery, Sydney, Australia 
- Collage: The Cards Players, Shanghai Gallery of Art, Shanghai, China
- All happens after sunset…, MOCA Shanghai Pavilion, Shanghai, China
- The Blues, 166 Artspace, Shanghai, China
- Shanghai Black and White, 166 Artspace, Shanghai, China

- An Atlas of Mirrors, The 5th Singapore Biennale, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore
- Painting as Strait Gate, Hive Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China 
- Nature: A Subjective Place, Shanghai Center Of Photography, Shanghai, China
- Chinese Whispers, Kunstmuseum Bern, Bern, Switzerland
- Ink Remix: Contemporary art from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, UNSW Galleries, Sydney, Australia
- Over the Wall: Paintings Tempted by Installation, Tang Contemporary Art, Beijing, China
- New Capital, Museum of Contemporary Art Chengdu, Chengdu, China
- Everyday Legend, Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai, China
- Temporary Museum, Museum of College of Fine Arts, Shanghai University, Shanghai, China
- The Decameron – BMCA Documenting Art, Blue Mountain Contemporary Art, Caochangdi Art Village, Beijing, China

- Copyleft, Power Station of Art, Shanghai, China
- Ink Remix: Contemporary art from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, Canberra Museum, Canberra, Australia
- Harmony and Transition – Reflecting Chinese Landscape, Museum Marta Herford, Herford, German
- The Garden of Forking Paths – Tracks and Intersections of 15 Artists, Shanghai Gallery of Art, Shanghai, China
- Editing the Spectacle: the Individual and Working Methods Post – Mediatization, Hive Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China
- Dunhuang – Song of Living Beings, Himalayas Museum, Shanghai, China
- Revolution in Tradition – China's Post-Ink Painting Era, Gallery Nathalie Obadia, Paris, France
- Overlay Image, Casa Dei Carraresi Museum, Treviso, Italy
- The 2nd “CAFAM Future” Exhibition: Observer – Creator, 798 Art Zone, Beijing, China
- Garden Splendors, Suzhou Jinji Lake Art Museum, Suzhou, China
- A Tale of Two Cities, Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art, Shanghai, China

- Outside The Lines – New Art From China, RH Contemporary Art, New York, USA
- Thinking of Landscape – Paintings from the Yeap Lam Yang Collection, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore
- Confronting Anitya – Oriental Experience in Contemporary Art, Kunstraum Villa Friede, Bonn, Germany; Yuan Art Museum, Beijing, China; Kunstwerk Charlshuette, Buedelsdorf, Germany; Art Sanya 2014, Sanya, China
- Present-ing Recital Louder Than Pain, Shanghai Gallery of Art, Shanghai, China
- The Sociology of Oneself, Eslite Gallery, Taipei, Chinese Taiwan
- Broken·Stand - The New Painting to Order, Long museum, Shanghai, China
- John Moores New Painting Prize(China), Himalayas Art Museum, Shanghai, China
- Labor & Time, Chambers Fine Art Beijing, Beijing, China
- How Now 2014 – Silent Force, How Museum, Wenzhou, China
- On the Road 2014, Guan Shanyue Art Museum, Shenzhen, China
- Resolution, SVA – NYC Art Platform, Shanghai, China

- Painstaking Painting, "St. Moritz Art Masters" project space, St. Moritz, Switzerland
- Bidirectional Punctum: As an Entry Point of Representation, One Kind of Painting, Hive Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China
- The Moment, We Awe, Hakgojae Gallery, Seoul, Korea
- Seven sunsets, waiting dawns, all in one. How to kill a wondrous time ⋯ not wanting a thousand hours, Shanghai Gallery of Art, Shanghai, China
- The 6th Chengdu Biennale, New International Convention & Exposition Center Chengdu Century City, Chengdu, China
- Nature of Speed, Gallery EXIT, Hong Kong, China
- Break and Breathe – Hands On No.5, College of Fine Arts Shanghai University, Shanghai, China
- The 8th International Ink Art Biennale of Shenzhen, Guan Shanyue Art Museum, Shenzhen, China

- Ctrl+N – The 9th Gwangju Biennale Special Exhibition, Gwangju Museum of Art, Gwangju, Korea
- The 1st "CAFAM Future" Exhibition Sub – Phenomena: Report on the State of Chinese Young Art Nomination, CAFA Art Museum, Beijing, China
- Sattva, Bogota Morden Art Museum, Bogota,Columbia; Wifredo Lam Museum, Havana, Cuba

- ShanShui – Poetry without Sound, Contemporary Art from the Sigg Collect, Kunstmuseum Luzern, Luzern, Switzerland
- Magic Space, Today Art Museum, Beijing, China
- Learning Method – Hands On No.4, V Arts Centre Space1, Shanghai, China
- The End of the Brush and Ink Era: Chinese Landscape, True Color Museum, Suzhou, China
- Pattern – Encounter, Museum Of Unknown, Space Station, Beijing, China; Times Museum, Guangzhou, China
- Contemporary China, Wandesford Quay Gallery, Cork, Ireland
- Nature of Matter, East link Gallery, Shanghai, China

- Big Draft – Shanghai, Contemporary Art from the Sigg Collection, Kunstmuseum Bern, Bern, Switzerland
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder(OCD) – Hands On No.3, DDM, Shanghai, China
- Reflection of Minds – MOCA Envisage Biennale, MOCA ShangHai, Shanghai, China
- John Moores New Painting Prize (China), Shanghai Gallery of Art, Shanghai, China
- Post Traditions, Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art, Shanghai, China
- San Sheng Wan Wu – Inaugueation of the Exhibition of Zendai Contemporary Art Exhibition Hall, Zendai Contemporary Art Exhibition Hall, Shanghai, China
- There is nothing you can measure anymore, Aike Gallery, Shanghai, China
- Square, East link Gallery, Shanghai, China

- Material Link – Technopolis, City of Athens, Athens, Greece
- Parallel – Hands On No.2, M50 Art District, Shanghai, China

- Material Link – A Dialogue Between Greek and Chinese Artists, MOCA Shanghai, Shanghai, China; Greek State Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki, Greece

- Lian Cheng Jue – Visual Creativity in New Urban, ZhenDai MOMA, Shanghai, China
- With the Way We Game – Hands On No.1, Bin Jiang Creative Enterprises Centre, Shanghai, China

public collections

- Ghisla Art Collection Foundation, Locarno, Switzerland
- Singapore Art Museum, Singapore
- M+ Museum, Hong Kong
- Brooklyn Museum, New York, USA
- me Collectors Room / Olbricht Collection, Berlin, Germany
- Arario Museum, Seoul / Jeju, South Korea
- Art Museum of Nanjing University of the Arts, Nanjing, China
- White Rabbit Gallery, Sydney, Australia
- DSL Collection, Paris, France
- Sigg Collection, Switzerland
- Rockbund Museum, Shanghai, China
- Yuz Museum, Shanghai, China


- Winner of "Best Young Artist" of Chinese Contemporary Art Awards (CCAA)

  • October 15, 2019

  • October 12, 2019
    Nowness — 13 PAGES

  • September 12, 2019
    Artnet News — 10 PAGES

  • September 5, 2019
    Wallpaper — 13 PAGES

  • July 17, 2018
    ArtAsiaPacific — 1 PAGE

To Measure with a Subjective Ruler

by Zhu Zhu

Ni Youyu's ruler has an almost identical shape, texture and creating process like the ones used in real life. Except for the scale. Just as the artist said, "On these ‘rulers’, every 'millimeter' slowly expands according to my instantaneous feeling. Each scale eventually forms certain 'numerical length.' However, there exists a difference in error between each distance and therefore in the real length of the ruler." In other words, he makes equal divisions of the distance through physical perception, thereby creating a "subjective ruler".

“I use my hand to 'caress' the rationalized objective,” said Ni Youyu. After the body gets involved, the differences appear. Although during the work procedure, subjectivity still endeavors to seek objectivity; "Subjectively, every scale is set extremely carefully, but objectively speaking, it is a make-believe and inaccurate."

The foundation of such practice derives from the artist's skepticism: skepticism about the standard of value and the quality of art in our era. The former corresponds to the disorder after the disintegration of the belief in Utopia. Loss of individualism and wandering has become necessary within the historical context. After such differentiated recognitions gradually replace identical recollections, then the body, like Nietzsche advocated, becomes a new measurement. The latter implicates how a ruler has become a formal carrier; powerlessly rendered in the present, the art of our era is evolving into a disastrous spectacle production. Such personal statement conveys the artist's sarcasm in which he states,” In my opinion, doing fashionable installations are just like undertaking massive projects.” The artist only plays the role of designer and contractor. There is no detail to be weighed to the point that the difference between the artists can be discernible. In an era craving for greatness and success, even Duchamp and Beuys would have appeared inferior in comparison, let alone Morandi, Cornell and Twombly, who spent much time dawdling along.

Therefore, he would rather identify his work as "still life." They usually appear miniature, minimalist and labor intensive, which demands the audience to gaze upon the works in detail. If we say in other works, for example, in the "Coin" series, these works were inspired from "collection, deconstruction and falsification" of ready-mades and exist in the molding of some sort of micro image. Then the "Ruler" constitutes the most extreme contextual backwash and even forms a secret center in his many methodically developed sequences.

From the angle of fetishism, among many regular items of the old days, ruler does not possess various looks of materialism or historical nostalgia. It also does not appeal much to our infatuation of images and spectacles. What it embodies is the minimalist aesthetics with a trace of handwork, "concise surface and reduced geometric shape", "appearance as a formula", similar to a silent model waiting for the audience to consciously engage: Ni Youyu measures with a subjective ruler. Above all, he uses its materiality to achieve his aesthetic goal so as to explicitly distance his practice from those gigantic and empty "projects".

Apart from the distance displayed in the form of the ruler, as content, the substitution of scale states distance as well. Personal adventure is different from collective value recognition such as individuality from universality. What he adopts is a peculiar way of "self-control", as mentioned before, during the entire work process, subjectivity still endeavors to seek objectivity, and it seems to be an error that eventually appears only when regarded as an inevitable and unavoidable result. In my opinion, this has more significance than an act of unlimited subjectivity. It is similar to Kafka's desperation and sense of inferiority "in front of law"; it does not point to the single context of social system, but the eternal destiny of exiling an individual. One desires to be integrated into collective, but cannot betray his own perception.

In this age of time, there are multiple ranges of influence and the challenges we face: tradition, totalitarianism, post-colonialism and consumerism. Ni Youyu utilizes a triangular ruler, which can be seen as a form of Cubististic self-portrait. On one side of the ruler shows a new measurement formed after dividing his height into 1, 000 equal parts. The other two sides are respectively hand-estimated "centimeter" and "cun" (Chinese traditional measurement of scale). "With three different measurements fusing together in one ruler, like they are in a race in a set distance, but in different standards in which the errors form different contrasts". In this work, the body of "oneself" unifies with the ruler, which collectively constitute a space allowing the mutual existence of diversities and differentiations.

Marking distance and differentiation is not his only ambition. The writing of scale obviously triggers the thought about the principle of universe, which resembles Pythagoras' theory of "everything is number.” Further, it is the testimony of the invisible philosophy of Daoism. Thereby, the working procedure that embeds a feeling of understanding through meditation, "a bit similar to a monk knocking on the temple block or copying scriptures." Such character allows one to break free from the realistic realm and enter in to the abstract form of meditation. Meanwhile, the work of following and correspondently inscribing one to another, removes all sorts of characterizations and meanings. Ruler is like an unnamed skeleton, which becomes the commemoration of the passing time.

Another fascinating element about Ni Youyu's works is that his subjective surmise and forgery of the ruler actually happens to coincide with the history of ruler. The primitive form of ruler originates from the human body itself. The Chinese character for ruler, "Chi", is a pictographic word. Bai Chuanjing's Notes on Basic Vocabulary of Chinese Characters writes, 'the shape of thumb and middle finger that stretches to the maximum pointing down.' In ancient times, such was their way to scale. "They used their body to measure length: finger for 'cun', palm for 'chi' and arm for 'zhang'" and tacitly admitted to the existence of errors. Furthermore, the standardization of measurements in the Qin Dynasty did not mean that the scale had become an eternal or that it is a fixed standard. In different dynasties that followed, the measurement of ruler has always been changing and fluctuating, in which political economy closely have influenced.

Realizing that a ruler embodies such a dynamic history, one is overwhelmed with a feeling of amazement. A constant object that helps decide a concrete measurement has shifted throughout the history. Ruler has the shape of a still life, yet it seems to be a secretive lightening. The semantic definitions behind alternates like a streak of lightning that Ni Youyu deciphers through his art practice.

Ni Youyu's Galaxy

by Peter Fischer

Ni Youyu belongs to a generation of young Chinese artists who are committed to engaging with their own heritage and hence are critical of the many older artists who take their bearings from the west. Even if classical genres such as ink-and-wash painting and calligraphy have always been taught and cultivated at China’s art schools, traditional Chinese culture, which after all developed over a period of several thousand years, was officially suppressed for the better part of a century. Its rediscovery in the context of the contemporary avant-garde was thus only a matter of time. For the young artists of today, their own Chinese heritage is just as much a benchmark as Western culture was for their parent’s generation. And while for some the relationship to their heritage wavers between fascination and inspiration, for others this heritage represents a tradition whose contemporary relevance must be put to the test.

Ni takes the view that traditional styles of expression must evolve and adapt if they are to avoid becoming of how people are faring. “The context of traditional Chinese shanshui has disappeared with the change of lifestyle and thinking….it is almost impossible for artists living now to indiscriminately imitate the ancient.”[1]

Thanks to an artistic strategy of shifting contexts, Ni really does succeed in combining the traditional past with the present. His Galaxy installation comprises several hundred coins which he hammered flat and then adorned with miniature shanshui-style landscapes. According to the artist, hammering was a means (popular not just among children) of getting to the bottom of the mystery of inherent value. [2] Having leveled out all the various coinages and denominations, Ni invested them with a new and different value by using them as supports for tiny shanshui drawings applied with miniature brushes to surfaces of no more than two or three centimeters in diameter. The objects transformed by two radically different techniques—violent destruction and artistic embellishment—thus became a metaphor for the idea that the traditional and the modern are in fact two sides of the same coin. In Ni’s installation, moreover, the coins become a starry canopy called Galaxy. [3] Integrating sharp contrasts and tensions within a single work may be irreconcilable with the shanshui tradition, but it will also prevent it from degenerating into mere folklore. [4]

[1] Quoted from e-mail correspondence between Ni Youyu and Uli Sigg, January 2011
[2] The Chinese word zaqian, which translates as “to pound money,” is used by extension to mean speculations as well.
[3] The Chinese name is yin he, which also translates as “silver river.”
[4] The author is the director of Kunstmuseum Luzern. This article is selected from page 147 in Shangshui.



NI Youyu